Riding into history


Among everyone involved, she may have been one of the last to find out.

Actually, she wasn’t even the first in her family to know. That distinction belongs to her father.

Angela Gebhart, one of the 43 competitors on the SDSU equestrian team, one of 23 schools that offer equestrian as a varsity sport, qualified as an All-American in the NCAA Varsity Equestrian’s first-ever prestigious class of riders. That distinction belongs to only three others in her marque event (reining) in the still-young Jacks equestrian program.

“I was kind of looking at the list and getting curious because I wasn’t finding my name,” she said. “I knew I had a good season … I looked at the top and saw I was number two on the list.”

Four athletes in each bracket earn All-American status, based on the top scores compiled throughout the season. That means 16 athletes qualify for that title, which newly came in effect this season. Under the old system, the senior from Maple Grove, Minn. would have competed at the Varsity Equestrian National Championships, but that part of the competition was cut due to low finances.

That, however, does not underscore Gebhart’s accomplishments. She finished the season with a 6-1 record in one-on-one competitions while finishing with four MVP awards. She won with as high a percentage as anyone else in the nation, and only a half-point away from finishing from a perfect season.

In golf, that’s like losing by one shot; in track, like losing by a fraction of a second.

Still lost?

The scoring is complicated. With the elimination of a nationals meet in the western division – meaning a different style of horse showing from the english division – a new system decided All-Americans based on performance over an entire season.  Based on averages, the scoring compares similarly to the BCS system in FBS college football, which rewards the consistency Gebhart excelled at.

“One of the things that makes her stand out, which actually doesn’t stand out, is her consistency,” interim head coach Joe Humphrey said. “It’s at a level that’s higher than a lot of people.”

It doesn’t hurt that she started horseback riding at 3-years old, and began doing horse shows at 10. But the college game is different, in that a competitor never rides their own horse. Horses are decided beforehand by the home, with players on each team riding the same horse as a way of leveling the playing field. Riders have a few minutes to get familiar with the horse before their run, then perform the routine.

“It’s kind of like shaking a person’s hand,” Gebhart said. “You introduce yourself and feel them out slowly.”

Gebhart’s not the only rider to have success. Amy Mendelke and Skye Burns, a junior and sophomore respectively, will compete at the IHSA Nationals in Lexington, Ken. next month. Gebhart finished ninth at the Varsity Equestrian National meet last season before breaking through this year. Her specialty, reining, takes an intelligence to make the horse an extension of you, she said. Making your influence on the horse’s movement look as minimal as possible leads to a higher score. She credits Humphrey for enhancing her appeal as a showman, something he downplays.

“Honestly, it’s not teaching her a whole lot, it’s just reinforcing what she already has and building her confidence level.”

Those results lead to membership in equestrian’s inaugural All-American class and cache for a program in only its sixth year of competition.

“It’s such a cool thing to end four years with,” she said.